New Hampshire Missing Places: Washington County

For a brief span of time several New Hampshire towns along the Connecticut River were considered to be located in Washington County, in the state of VERMONT.

Over several years in the early settlement of  the western part of New Hampshire near the Connecticut River, there were many claims to the same land by the Dutch at Albany, by the French, and by the colonies of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York.  In 1760 Governor Benning Wentworth granted some of these identical lands on both sides of the Connecticut River, which became known as the New Hampshire Grants.

The controversy did not halt for the American Revolution. In 1776 a convention was held with the residents of the so-called  New Hampshire Grants indicating they did not wish to be a part of the state of New York.  At another convention in January of 1777, the members decided that “forever hereafter to be considered as a free and independent jurisdiction or State, by the name and forever hereafter to be called, known and distinguished by the name and forever hereafter to be called, known and distinguished by the name of New Connecticut, alias Vermont.” In June of the same year (1777) the committee met and composed a constitution.

In 1781 the New Hampshire Grant towns along the east side of the Connecticut met and the following towns accepted terms of union with Vermont: Acworth, Alstead, Bath, Cardigan, Charlestown, Chesterfield, Claremont, Cornish, Croydon, Dresden (now Hanover), Dorchester, Gilsum, Grafton, Grantham, Gunthwait, Haverhill, Hinsdale, Lancaster, Landaff, Lebanon, Plainfield, Lempster, Lincoln, Lyman, Lyme, Marlow, Morristown (now Franconia), Newport, Piermont, Richmond, Saville, Surry, and Westmoreland.  [EDITOR’S NOTE: The History of Canaan NH states that “by petition dated June 11, 1778, the result of conclusions they had reached in Mach. There were sixteen of these towns as follows: Cornish, Lebanon, Dresden (now Hanover), Lyme, Orford, Piermont, Haverhill, Bath, Lyman, Apthorp (now Littleton), Dalton, Enfield, Canaan Orange, Landaff, New Concord (now Lisbon), and Franconia. They took the position that since the government of Great Britain was overthrown, they were left to their own natural sovereignty, that the original grant of New Hampshire extended but sixty miles from the sea, that these townships were independent grants, each in itself a sovereign political organization, and that as the power which had crated them was thus overthrown, they were at liberty to attach themselves to whatever state they pleased.” ]

Now Washington County in the State of Vermont was regarded as embracing the townships in Cheshire County, New Hampshire, the name being now changed after the union took effect. Among the sixty-nine person who took the oath prescribed by the law of Vermont in May of 1781 were Ebenezer Harvey, Ebenezer Fletcher, Amos Davis, Silas Thompson, Jonathan Farr 4th, Oliver Cobleigh, Abel Ray, Jonathan Davis, Ebenezer Streeter, Caleb Johnson, Warren Snow, Daniel Colburn, Zerubbabel Snow, Jonas Davis, Samuel Hildreth, Benjamin Streeter, Nathaniel Walton, Samuel Davis, Eleazer Randall, Benjamin Smith, Aaron Fisk, James Wheeler Jr., and Phinehas Fullam.  From this point for the rest of the year the town records for the former New Hampshire townships were made in the name of Vermont. It was a confusing time.  In one instance for a property deed in Chesterfield NH, it was recorded as being located in two counties, Cheshire and Washington.  Also, not everyone in these newly “Vermontized” towns wished to be a part of that State, and they petitioned the State of New Hampshire.

The United States Congress required that Vermont give up claims to land on the east side of the Connecticut River, but the Vermont Assembly was unwilling to agree.  There were many conflicts of authority which followed, men from both sides arrested or attempts made to be arrested, and militia were raised and called together, and In December of 1781, Governor Thomas Chittenden of Vermont sent an order to Gen. Elisha Payne to have military force readied should it be needed in the case of an armed force.  Governor Chittenden sent a copy of the letter to President Meshech Weare of the New Hampshire Council, along with a proposal to settle the matter amicably.

The new sheriff of Washington County, General Roger Enos, and Col. Ira Allen of Vermont were sent to Exeter, to help settle the matter with New Hampshire. Upon arrival Page was arrested and imprisoned. In January of 1782, New Hampshire gave the “Vermont towns” on the east side of the Connecticut river an ultimatum to submit to New Hampshire rule, and drew up plans to draft men, create regiments, to be led by Major General John Sullivan.

On the first day of January 1782, General George Washington wrote a letter to Governor Chittenden of Vermont, that probably did much to finally resolve the escalating conflict.  “I am apt to think. . . that your late extension of claim has, upon the principal I have above mentioned, rather diminished than increased your friends; and that, if such extension should be persisted in, it will be made a common cause, and not considered as only affecting the rights of those States immediately interested in the loss of territory;–a loss of too serious a nature not ot claim the attention of any people.  There is no calamity within the compass of more foresight which is more to be dreaded than the necessity of coercion on the part of Congress; and consequently every endeavor should be made to prevent the execution of so disagreeable a measure.”

On the 23d of February 1782, the Assembly of Vermont, passed a resolution finally accepting the boundaries of their state as recommended by Congress, and gave up all claims to any land lying outside those boundaries, including those on the east side of the Connecticut River.  While the boundary issues were finally resolved, the antagonism and bad feeling was not so easily dispersed. Even in February of 1783, some of the towns in Grafton and Cheshire Counties refused to contribute toward the expenses of the war with Great Britain.

Vermont was not formally admitted as one of the Federal states until March 4, 1791. They took the french words for the mountain range, i.e. Green Mountains or ‘Verdmont,‘ eliminating the ‘d’ to become Vermont. As for the ‘errant’ towns of New Hampshire, they became fully integrated back into New Hampshire–as if they had never left.


Map of South Vermont and parts of New Hampshire, 1783

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3 Responses to New Hampshire Missing Places: Washington County

  1. doctordavis says:

    Ms. Brown: Another good piece of NH history that is not well-known. I seem to remember from grade school history that Canaan and Enfield (formerly Relhan) were also part of this group. Since they are between Hanover-Lebanon, and Dorchester-Grafton-Orange, that would seem likely. Most of these were also “Charter Towns”, hurriedly drawn up by Benning Wentworth in 1761. Thanks again.

  2. doctordavis says:

    Ms. Brown: I looked this up in “History of Canaan, N.H.” by James Burns Wallace. On page 58 it states that there were 16 towns in NH that signed a Vermont petition on 11 June 1778 to join the federal government as an independent state. Canaan and Enfield are among those mentioned, but Dorchester and Grafton are not. Were these 2 separate actions? Also, I remember being told that this part of NH wanted to go with Vermont because Portsmouth was the capital of NH at the time and these towns felt too far removed from it. This was a large part of the reason for the capital being moved to Rumford (now Concord).

    • Janice Brown says:

      Thank you for your post. I guess it depends on your source of information. Until I can find the actual document that mentions the names of the towns involved, I will add the snippet from the Canaan history. I am honestly now not certain which list of towns is correct. As for the capital being moved to Concord, yes having it be central was a consideration, but it was a bold political move for of course there were other options.

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