History Page

Vermont GenWeb Project

Bench and Bar: County Limits

by Hon. Hiram A. Huse

Taken from the Gazetteer of Washington County, Vt. 1783-1889

Compiled and published by Hamilton Child

The Indians exercised practical jurisdiction over all lands now included in Washington county till 1781 or 1782, when Thomas Mead made the first permanent white settlement in Middlesex, a mile or more below Montpelier. White men had, however, before that taken to themselves paper or parchment title-what Col. Orange Fifield would call "a paper front" if describing their invasion-to a good many acres.

The following charters had been granted by New Hampshire: Berlin, June 7, 1763, to Chauncey Grayham and others; Duxbury, June 7, 1763, to Issac Brown and others; Middlesex, June 8, 1763; Moretown, June 7, 1763, to Jonas Foster and others; Waterbury, June 7, 1763, to John Stiles and others; and Worcester, June 8, 1763, to Joshua Mason and others.

Grants of other towns had been given by Vermont: In 1780, Barre (under name of Wildersburgh, changed to Barre in 1793), Cabot, Calais, Montpelier, Northfield, Roxbury, Warren, and Woodbury (name changed to Monroe in 1838 and back to Woodbury in 1843); and in 1782 Vermont granted Fayston, Marshfield, and Waitsfield, and in 1788 Plainfield (called St. Andrews Gore until 1797).

New York had also granted, under the name of Kilby, a township of land including a part of Montpelier, Berlin, and Barre. No attention seems to have been paid to this grant except that knowledge of it angered still more the Allens and others who were resisting the New York claims.

New Hampshire began granting towns in 1749, and in 1764 had granted 138 towns in what is now Vermont territory. In 1764 an order of the King in Council made the western bank of the Connecticut river the boundary between New Hampshire and New York, and New York began granting not only lands not before granted by New Hampshire, but also regranting such granted lands on which settlements had been made. This granting by New York was forbidden by the king in 1767, but New York authorities construed the order to apply only to lands already granted by New Hampshire.

The jurisdiction of New Hampshire courts may at some time have been exercised over Vermont Lands or persons, but where and when does not clearly appear. In fact, till about 1769 or 1771, New Hampshire was not divided into counties, and between 1749 and 1764 her courts appear to have been wholly at Portsmouth. So the grantees of the six Washington county towns chartered by New Hampshire in 1763 would have had to repair to the shores of the Atlantic to find legal adjudication in respect of their Vermont property. The order of the king in 1764 put Vermont territory under control of New York, although it may have left the New Hampshire charters valid, and then all Vermont was (on paper) in Albany county, and her inhabitants would (on paper again) have to "tend court" at Albany on the banks of the Hudson instead of at Portsmouth. As a matter of fact they settled land titles and administered justice nearer home with the "beech seal".

New York soon took measures for the administration of her laws in the territory thus declared within her jurisdiction, and beginning in 1766 took measures to establish the county of Cumberland, and effected this finally by a charter of March 17 or 19, 1768-the boundaries were the west bank of the Connecticut, thence twenty-six miles to the southeast corner of Stamford, thence north fifty-six miles to the northeast corner of Socialborough (Clarendon), thence north fifty-three degrees east thirty miles to the south corner of Tunbridge, thence by the south line of Tunbridge, Strafford, and Thetford to the Connecticut. The county seat was first at Chester, then Westminster.

By a New York ordinance of March 16, 1770, Gloucester county was established out of that part of Albany county lying north of Cumberland county and east of the Green Mountains, and May 29 of that year, at Kingsland (or Kingsborough), now Washington, the first court for Gloucester county was held. A full account of this may be found in Child's Gazetteer of Orange County. The next winter the judges and sheriff going to hold this court found themselves "as far in the woods", and court "opened on the spot", and court, "if one", was adjourned till May. Some courts were afterward held in Gloucester's territory, but it had no white inhabitants. Charlotte county was established west of the Green Mountains, March 12, 1772, but its doings do not concern the east side. In fact, the New York jurisdiction was so hated by a large portion of the inhabitants that it had a hard time of it generally.

When Vermont came into her own, and, as one old mapmaker has it, her inhabitants held their lands :by the triple title of "honest purchase, of industry in settling, and now lately that of conquest", she organized the new state into two counties, on the 17th day of March, 1778, and called them Bennington and Unity. The name Unity was changed to that of Cumberland, March 21, 1778. Cumberland included the territory east of the Green Mountains, and was divided into two shires by "the ancient county line". The "shire of Newbury" had, by act of March 24, 1778, for its judges: Gen. Jacob Bailey, 1st judge; Mr. Jacob Burton, 2d; Mr. William Heaton, 3rd; Mr. Reuben Foster, 4th; and Capt. John French, 5th;-so these were the first Vermont judges over territory that is now Washington county, and the reader is referred to the Gazetteer above named for some account of them. But as yet Washington county had no white folks within its borders, and it was indeed more than two years after this that the Indians, returning from the burning of Royalton, camped with their prisoners near Dog river in Berlin. The Westminster shire was sometimes called the Cumberland shire, and the Newbury shire sometimes called the Gloucester shire.

February 11, 1779, Bennington county and Cumberland county had their dividing line rearranged, Bennington county gaining some territory by the new bounds. Some of what is now Washington county fell to Bennington county, and some remained in Cumberland county, as the line between the counties ran in the northerly half of the state from "fifty miles east of Lake Champlain's center channel south to the northeast corner of Worcester and along the easterly lines of Worcester, Middlesex, and Berlin, to the southwest corner of Berlin, and then to the northwest corner of Tunbridge". Not an easily traceable line, but there was nobody within the present limits of Washington county to quarrel about it.

It may be here observed that the present Washington county is not the first Washington county that Vermont has had. When the new state was annexing parts of New Hampshire and New York at its April session of 1781, the Vermont legislature established a county by the name of Washington from the towns it had annexed east of the Connecticut river; that Washington county had for its northerly towns Claremont, Newport,(N.H.), Unity, and Wendal; but when the forty-five New Hampshire towns were restored, February 21, 1782, to their own state, of course, the earlier Washington county ceased to exist, but its even temporary establishment was a very timely compliment to Gen. Washington.

At the February session, 1781, Bennington county was divided into two counties-Bennington substantially as now existing, and Rutland embracing the territory to the north that was formerly in Bennington county; and Cumberland county was divided into three counties-Windham and Windsor substantially as now existing, and Orange comprising all territory to the north of Windsor and east of Rutland counties to the Canada line. Thetford and Newbury were constituted "half shires" for the county of Orange, and that county, by the way, till 1787, had for one of its towns Kingston, now Granville. October 18, 1785, the county of Addison was established, and the western part of Washington county was included therein. This lasted till the act of October 22, 1787, establishing Chittenden county, went into effect, after which the western towns of Washington county were part in Addison and part in Chittenden county. November 5, 1792, the counties of Franklin, Caledonia, Orleans, and Essex were established, but all the original territory belonging to Orange county was to "continue to be annexed" to Orange county till October 1, 1796. After Caledonia county was in running order its courts were held at Danville till after the organization of Washington county under the name of Jefferson, in 1811. So from the organization of Chittenden county to December 1, 1796 (when Caledonia county became a working entity), Washington county towns were divided between three counties, and from December 1, 1796, to December 1, 1811, our present territory was in four counties; the towns of Barre, Berlin, Northfield, and Roxbury being in Orange county-Cabot, Calais, Marshfield, Montpelier, Plainfield (till 1797 called St. Andrews), and Woodbury being in Caledonia county-Duxbury, Fayston, Middlesex, Moretown, Waitsfield, Waterbury, and Woodbury being in Chittenden county, and Warren in Addison county. (Editor's note: There will be a test!)

November 1, 1810-a couple of years after Montpelier had become the capital of the state-Jefferson county was incorporated after ineffectual attempts to amend the bill and to refer it to the next session, which last proposal was defeated by a vote of 90 yeas to 101 nays. John Peck, Gershom Palmer, and Nicholas Baylies were appointed to a committee to designate the place of building a jail and court-house, and to procure subscriptions and build. The new county was set going by acts of the session of 1811. One, passed October 16, of that year, fixed the place of holding courts at Montpelier; the term of the Supreme Court to be held on the 5th Tuesday after the 4th Tuesday of August, and the terms of the County Court to be on the first Mondays of December and June. By an act of October 30, 1811, Ezra Butler, justice of the peace, was authorized to issue a venire, directed to the sheriff of Chittenden county, to summon fifteen jurymen, being freeholders, from Waterbury, Moretown, Duxbury, Stowe, and Middlesex, to serve as petit jurors for the first term of court beginning the first Monday of December, 1811.

The territory embraced in the county of Jefferson was nearly that of the present county of Washington. The territorial changes since made are as follows: Stowe remained in this county till 1836, when it was set to the new county of Lamoille; Elmore was annexed to this county in 1821, and remained a part of it till 1836, when Lamoille county was established; Roxbury was annexed (from Orange county) in 1820; Warren (from Addison county) in 1829; and Woodbury (in 1835) and Cabot (in 1855) from Caledonia county. Montpelier's division into Montpelier and East Montpelier, in 1849, gave this county another town without increase in territory. Goshen Gore by Plainfield (annexed to Plainfield in 1874) and Harris Gore were annexed (from Caledonia county) August 1, 1863.

November 8, 1814, an act was passed changing the name of Jefferson county to Washington county, and on the 1st day of December following this act took effect.


Should you have any questions, please email the Web mistress

Return to home page