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History of Wyoming
Charles Miner
1845

 

History of Wyoming, by Charles Miner, in a series of letters, this son William Penn Miner, Esq

Letter XIII

Two years of repose presented no event for the record of the historian’s pen more exciting than the ordinary occurrences of peace and domestic prosperity. The succeeding year, 1774, though equally peaceful and prosperous, yet assumes in our annals an increased interest. It was the year, more than any other, in the memory of the ancient people, of unalloyed joy and gladness, even surpassing the two by which it was proceeded. On the report of Messr. Dyer, Johnson and Strong, the General Assembly of Connecticut adopted decisive measures to bring the settlement on the Susquehanna under her immediate jurisdiction. An act was passed early in January, erecting all the territory within her charter limits from the River Delaware to a line 15 miles west of the Susquehanna, into a town, with all the corporate powers of other towns in the colony, to be called Westmoreland, attaching it to the county of Litchfield. This most desirable event was hailed by the people with unbounded satisfaction. Venerating the law, they now felt that it pervaded the settlement with a holier sanction than their own mere agreement, or the resolutions of the Susquehanna Company could impart. To all intents and purposes, in name as well as in fact, a portion of the ancient high standing colony of Connecticut, eminent for order, learning and piety, the character of the parent was now felt to be officially imparted to this, her true though distant offspring. Moreover, the distinct legalization of what had before been done, and the pledge of protection for the future, implied in the extension of her laws to the settlement, were regarded as points attained a great importance. A sense of security existed, a feeling of confidence ensued, which gave force to contracts, encouraged industry, it and stimulated enterprise.

Proper measures had been adopted for the introduction of the laws, and usages of the civil government of Connecticut. Zubulon Butler and Nathan Denison were commissioned Justices of Peace, with directions to call a town meeting of the freeman of Westmoreland, with a view to a perfect organization, and for the purpose of choosing town officers for the ensuing year. These gentlemen have been before noticed. Nature never formed to excellent men, in more distinct contrast. Butler, polished in manner, quick in perception, vehement and rapid in execution; Denison, plain, though courteous, slow to speak, as careful to consider, cool and firm, if not alert in action. Both universal favorites, we again advert to their characters because they were the two great and acknowledged leaders in Westmoreland.

The organization may now somewhat complicated, the reader will please to observe the difference between a town and a township. The town of Westmoreland legally incorporated for civil purposes, was about 70 miles square, and could only be established by supreme legislative authority. Within this limit a number of townships of five or six miles square, were laid off by the Delaware and Susquehanna Companies, divided into lots, which were drawn for by proprietors, or sold. These townships had power to make needful rules and bylaws for their interior regulation, the establishment of roads, the care or disposal of vacant lots, and other matters entirely local. Of these there already existed Wilkes-Barre, Hanover, Plymouth, Kingston, or the Forty, Exeter, Pittston, and Capouse, or Providence; more were from time to time added. A town meeting therefore, now, was "legally warned," called together all the freemen, in all the townships or settlements, from the Delaware to 15 miles beyond the Susquehanna, and from the Lehigh, north to Tioga point.

The first town meeting:-But we are sure the curious reader will be pleased to hear the old records, page first, speak for themselves; the more especially as they will exhibit the general organization of towns in Connecticut, the number and kind of officers chosen, and show the pure democracy that prevailed in their system of government. At that time the assembly met twice a year. Delegates held their commissions only six months, so cautious were the people of entrusting power. Each town elected one or two members, according to their population.

Before we proceed to copy the votes, it may be proper to say-that every town in the colony kept, and we presume still keeps, a regular record of its elections, orders, votes, etc. While most of the valuable papers in the settlement were destroyed, by singular good fortune the volume of Westmoreland records was saved, and is in a state of excellent preservation. The neat manner in which they were kept, the generally fine, liberal and patriotic spirit they breathe, reflect the highest honor on the ancient people. Bearing the "image and superscription" of the fathers of Wyoming, we shall quote them freely, both as curious from their antiquity, and interesting as reflecting the impress of those whose history our labors record.

"At a town meeting legally warned and held for Westmoreland, March ye 1st, 1774, for choosing town officers, etc., Zubulon Butler, Esq., was chosen moderator for the work of the day. Major Ezekiel Pierce was chosen town clerk.

"March ye 1st. Voted that this meeting is adjourned until tomorrow morning at this place, at eight of the clock, in ye forenoon.

March ye 2nd, 1774, this meeting is opened and held by adjournment. Voted, that he town of Westmoreland be divided in the following manner into districts-that is to say, that ye town of Wilkes-Barre, be one entire district, and known by the name of Wilkes-Barre district: and that ye town of Hanover, and all the land south of Wilkes-Barre, and west on Susquehanna River, and east on the Lehigh, be one district, by ye name of Hanover district. And that Plymouth, with all ye land west of Susquehanna River, south and west to the town line, be one district, by ye name of Plymouth district: and that Kingston, with the land west to ye town line, be one district, by ye name of Kingston district: and that Pittston be one district, by ye name of Pittston district: and that asked Exeter, Providence, and all the lands west and north to ye town line, be one district, by ye name of the North District: and that Lackaway settlement and Blooming Grove, and Sheolah, to be one district, and to be called by ye name of the ye Lackaway district: and that Coshutunk, and all ye settlements on Delaware, be one district, and joined to ye other districts, and known by ye name of ye east district.

Select Men.

"Christopher Avery, Nathaniel Landon, Samuel Ransom, Isaac Tripp, Esq., Caleb Bates, Lazarus Stewart, Silas Parke, were chosen select men, for ye year ensuing.

"Captain Stewart refused to accept. Rosewell Franklin was chosen Selectman in ye room of Captain Stewart.

Town Treasurer.

"Zubulon Butler, Esq., was chosen town treasurer.

Constables and Collectors of Rates.

"Asa Stevens, Timothy Smith,* Jonathan Haskel, Asaph Whittlesy, Noah Adams, Phineas Clark, William Smith, were chosen Constables and Collectors of Rates

Surveyors of Highways.

"Anderson Dana, Daniel Gore, Elisha Swift, Thomas Stoddart, Thomas Bennet, Perrin Ross, Rufus Lawrence, Samuel Ransom, Jonathan Parker, Isaac Baldwin, Zavan Tracy, Elijah Witter, John Ainsley, William Hibbard, James Lastley, John DeWit, John Jenkins, Jr., Aaron Thomas, Anthony Chimer, Abraham Russ, Benjamin VanCampin, Benjamin Hardy, were chosen Surveyors of Highways.

Fence Viewers.

"John Abbott, William Warner, Ezekiel Pierce, William Buck, Nathan Denison, Esq., Thomas Stoddart Frederick Eveland, John Baker, Charles Gaylord, Samuel Slaughter, Abraham Harding, Captain Parrish, John Jamison, John Gardner, were chosen fence viewers, for ye year ensuing.

Listers.

"Anderson Dana, Daniel Gore, Elisha Swift, Eliphalet Follet, Perrin Ross, Nathan Wade, Jeremiah Blanchard, Zavan Tracy, Uriah Chapman, Gideon Baldwin, Silas Gore, Moses Thomas, Emmanuel Consawler, John Jenkins and Phineas Clark, were chosen Listers, for ye year ensuing.

Leather Sealers.

"Elisha Swift, Ebenezer Hibbard, and Captain Silas Parke, were chosen leather sealers ye year ensuing.

Grand Jurors.

"Jabez Sills, James Stark, William Buck, Elias Church, Phineas Nash, Thomas Heath, Barnabas Cary, Lemuel Harding, Hezekiah Bingham, John Franklin, Timothy Keys, were chosen Grand Jurors ye year ensuing.

Tything Men.

"Philip Weeks, Elihu Williams, Luke Swetland, Justice Gaylord, James Brown, Isaac Parrish, Timothy Hopkins, were chosen Tything men.

Sealers of Weights and Measures.

"Jabez Sills, Captain Obadiah Gore, Captain Silas Parke, Captain Lazarus Stewart, were chosen Sealers of Weights and Measures.

Key-Keepers.

"Daniel Gore, Jabez Fish, Timothy Pierce, Uriah Stevens, Thomas Heath, Jeremiah Blanchard, Jonathan Haskel, Zipron Hibbard, were chosen key keepers." Thus was the town organized by the designation of 100 officers.

April 11 and 12, the second town meeting in Westmoreland was held. 206 persons took the Freeman's oath, as required by law. A tax was laid of one penny in the pound, "to purchase ammunition for the town's use, and other necessaries."

Application to the assembly was directed for a court of probate, and the establishment of the Regiment. Pounds already built, were pronounced lawful pounds. Roads heretofore established, were declared lawful highways, on which taxes might be laid out.

"Voted-that for ye present, ye tree that now stands northerly from Captain Butler's house, shall be ye Town Sign Post."

This matter of the legal sign Post, is of weightier import than, without explanation, might be imagined. Newspapers in those days were little-known, save in the larger cities. It had therefore been enacted, that a Sign Post be established in each town, on which notices of public meetings, public sales, stray animals taken out, etc., should be nailed or placed, to render them legal. It is proper to add, that, as an accompaniment of the sign post, which was also the legal whipping post, a pair of stocks was provided for a punishment of the guilty, and a warning to deter from crime. These (now abjured) monuments of civilization and law, were derived from England, and brought over, nay, almost venerated by our Puritan fathers. The ancient pillary and wooden horse, first disappeared, the whipping post and stocks soon followed.

A town meeting was holden April 28, 1774.

"Captain Butler was chosen moderator, for ye work of ye day.

Voted that Captain Zubulon Butler, Captain Timothy Smith, Mr. Christopher Avery, and Mr. John Jenkins, be appointed agents in behalf of this company of settlers, to attend the meeting of the General Assembly, to be holden at Hartford in May next, etc."

It is presumed that, at this time the number of members of assembly Westmoreland would be entitled to, had not been designated. Thereafter two were, or might be elected for each session, during the continuance of the jurisdiction of Connecticut.

The John Jenkins named, was the elder, and the father of Col. John Jenkins, both distinguish Patriots, who will appear frequently and honorably on our pages.

The fourth town meeting was held June 27, Zubulon Butler moderator. Both were passed "to form themselves into companies in a military way." Each district in Westmoreland to be a company. And Zubulon Butler, Esq., Major Ezekiel Pierce, and Mr. John Jenkins were appointed as a committee to repair to the several districts, and lead each company to a choice of officers, etc.

On the 30th of September, a fifth town meeting was held, Captain S. Fuller, moderator.

Captain Butler and Mr. Joseph Sluman, were chosen representatives to next assembly, and these were the first persons admitted to the full participation of the rights of members, not as delegates from territories, having a power to debate, but not a right to vote; but voting on all questions that arose, uniting in making laws for the rest of the colony, as the other members made laws for Westmoreland, and from henceforth, Wyoming, or Westmoreland, (we shall use the terms as synonymous) was in all respects a part of Connecticut, as much as Stonington, or Saybrook, Hartford, or New Haven.

The name of Joseph Sluman, occurs frequently in the old records. From his being often named on committees, and several times chosen member of Assembly, it would appear that he was trusted and honored; but we cannot learn whence he came, what was his fate, or whether he left any family in Wyoming. It is most probable that his generous spirit led him into the thickest of the terrible conflict, that afterwards overwhelmed the valley, and that fortune, life, and all remembrance of him were extinguished together.

This sixth town meeting in that year was held on the 17th of October.

Voted-that Lt. Elijah Shoemaker, Mr. Solomon Johnson, Mr. John Jenkins, Captain Timothy Smith, and Mr. Douglas Davidson, be a committee to meet such gentlemen, as shall be appointed at or near Delaware, "to mark out a road from that river to the Susquehanna." Up to this time therefore, we may assert that no road existed from any part of the inhabited country to Wyoming. Bridal paths with the only avenues to the valley, except that by the Susquehanna River, on which boats brought from below, at great cost, heavy articles of indispensable necessity.

The seventh town meeting was held Nov. 22, from which, in a page or two, we shall copy some interesting votes.

The eighth and last town meeting called during 1774, was held the sixth of December, at which, among a variety of other things, it was

"Voted-that Elisha Richards, Captain Ransom, Perrin Ross, Nathaniel Landon, Elijah Swift, Nathan Denison, Esq., Stephen Harding, John Jenkins, Anderson Dana, Obadiah Gore, Jr., James Stark, Roswell Franklin, Captain Stewart, Captain Parkes, and Uriah Chapman, were chosen school committee, for the ensuing year.

It may be justly regarded equally honorable and extraordinary, that a people just commencing a settlement in a wilderness, wrestling with the yet rude and unbroken soil for bread, surrounded by so many intrinsic difficulties and causes of alarm, should be found so zealously adopting, and so steadily pursuing, measures to provide free schools throughout the settlement, and establish the preaching of the gospel.

The reader must have been amused by observing the great number of town meetings held this year. Human nature is illustrated by the review. After a long period of contests and suffering, now, for the first time, the lawful power existed to hold a "legally warrned" meeting, and to give efficient votes. It was a new thing! What a pleasure! But where was a pleasure unless the right should be exercised. As to the woodsman, when he has obtained a long wished for rifle, is not satisfied to he has tried it again and again. Happy people! Every tint of brilliant morn or blushing eve, was to your delighted view a ray of hope and joy.

Over the three years that had just passed, scare a cloud had arisen to interrupt the cheering sunshine. But just towards the close of 1774, a policy began to develope itself, which occasioned no inconsiderable alarm and trouble. Persons came in as settlers, bought a Connecticut title to a lot, became regular inhabitants, and then avowed-That they did this from policy-that they considered the Connecticut claim, in fact, good for nothing, and held a better lying under that, which they had bought elsewhere. Pennsylvania surveyors were found, more or less openly, to be making surveys in various parts of Westmoreland, and some of this sagacious men began to speak doubtingly, for they saw breakers ahead.

Two extirpate the evil before it should take deep root, the obvious policy led to prompt action.

"At a meeting of ye proprietors and settlers, legally warned, and held in Wilkes-Barre district, in Westmoreland, Nov. 22nd, A.D. 1774-Zubulon Butler, Esq., was chosen moderator for ye work of ye day. Voted, that August Hunt, and Frederick Vanderlip, now residing on the Susquehanna purchase, being men that have, and now do so conduct themselves by spreading reports about ye town of Westmoreland, much to ye disturbance of ye good and wholesome inhabitants of this town, and by their taking up and holding land under ye pretension of ye title of Pennsylvania, contrary to ye proclamation of ye governor of this colony, and contrary to ye votes of the Susquehanna Company, etc. It is now voted that ye said Hunt be expelled this purchase, and he be, as soon as may be removed out of ye purchase and out of ye town of Westmoreland, by ye committee hereafter appointed, at ye cost of this company, in such way as ye committee still think proper.

"Voted,-That Captain Stephen Fuller, Captain Robert Durkee, Asahel Buck, Nathan Denison, Esq., Captain Samuel Ransom, John Paine, Abraham Harding, Rosewell Franklin, John Jenkins, Jr., be a committee to make inquiry into, and search after all persons that are suspected to have been taking land under the title of Pennsylvania, etc., and that they have full power to expel any person or persons from this purchase and town, whom they or ye major part of them judge unwholesome inhabitants, on account of their taking land under ye title of Pennsylvania, and their conducting contrary to ye proclamation of ye governor of ye colony of Connecticut, and ye votes of the Susquehanna Company, etc., and also remove them at such time and in such way as they shall think proper, out of this town and purchase, and that be empowered by this company to call on the treasurer for any of ye bonds in his hands that belong to this company, and put ye same in suit against any of ye persons who are indebted to this company, and are going out of town, or are spending there estate, etc., and that they collect ye same, or get good security of such other persons who are good able land owners in this town, and that they lodge ye same in ye hands of said treasurer, as soon as they have obtained it, etc., and that they do you ye same at ye cost of this company, if needful, and that they take ye most effectual method to prevent such great numbers of persons of evil name and fame, from going up and down this River under the pretense of laying out locations," etc.

The nine gentlemen named on the committee, embraced, as rightly it should in matters so delicate and important, one of the leading men from each township, or district. While the Pennsylvania party loudly censored this act of expulsion, as a high-handed outrage, it was justified by the Yankees as a measure indispensable to self-preservation. But this game of settling real Pennsylvania claimants, on Connecticut rights, which could be purchased cheap, was too good to be abandoned. One or more gentlemen of character and intelligence, cautious and prudent, had been on the ground from an early day. The name of David Meade, is signed, in fair round hand, to a call of a meeting of proprietors in Wilkes-Barre, in 1770. When we say that the fine town of Meadville, the seat of justice in Crawford County, was established by him, soon after being expelled by the Yankees from Wyoming, the introduction of his name will be sufficient to awaken interest to his future course.

Having spoken of the facility with which lands could be obtained, from the lowness of price, at Wyoming, before closing this letter, I will state briefly the sums paid for certain lots in Wilkes-Barre, in the years 1772-3, no later records of deeds, before the war, having rewarded my research.

"In the 12th year of the reign of our sovereign Lord, George ye 3rd, Kind, etc." July 6, 1772, Silas Gore sells to Jonathan Stowell of Ashford, Connecticut, for the consideration of 20 pounds, lawful money, one whole settling right in the township of Wilkes-Barre, said rights contains-the house or house lot, No. 28, the meadow lot, No. 50-and the third division, or back lot, No. 44, as by the drafts of the said town may appear, together with all the altar divisions which may be made, etc."

"August 21, 1772. Asa Stephens sells to Enoch Judd, for the consideration of 43 pounds, lawful money, ($143.34) one settling right in the township of Wilkes-Barre, being meadow number 20, house lot No. 27, and back, or great lot, No. 8, together with all the other divisions yet to be made.

"Elijah Loomis, of Harrington, and the County of Litchfield, sells to Elisha Swift, a whole right in Wilkes-Barre, being town lot No. 2, meadow lot (about 33 acres) No. 28, back lot No. 36, for 100 pounds, on the 23rd of February, in the 13th year of the reign of our sovereign Lord George the Third, King," etc. it was wise policy in the Susquehanna people to be particular in their deeds of conveyance to repeat "our sovereign Lord George the King,"-for it was contemplated to refer the dispute to his Majesty, and he could not fail to be conciliated by this evidence of devotion.

One more instance will close our present reference to prices. The burying ground lot, of near 4 acres, was bought, in 1772, for nine pounds 10, or $31.67. At simple interest to 1842, 70 years, the amount would become principal, $31.67, interest, $133; added, $164.67. Allow the sum to double every 16 years, then in 1788, he would have cost $63.34-in 1804, he would have cost $126.68-in 1820, it would have cost $253.36-in 1836, it would have cost a $506.72-and six years interest, up to 1842, $182.42, to the principal, his $689.13. Allowing the rent of the land to have paid taxes, how would stand the investment? The corresponding town lot, on the opposite side of the street, would bring five times that sum. Several of the town lots would sell for 10 times that amount; and many, independent of the buildings erected on them, would bring 20 times that sum. In a subsequent letter, the rise in prices of lands will be more particularly noted. We have indulged in this prospective speculation to amuse the curious reader, who may trace our labors; and because the subject to press strongly on the mind-that investments, judiciously made in lands, besides being safer than stocks, are far from being unprofitable. The census, taken this year, shows that Westmoreland contained 1922 inhabitants.

But stirring events of 1775 demand our attention.

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