Map raises question: Was Charlotte once most of Vermont?

Was our town once an entire county?

In the accompanying map from 1777, Vermont, then known as the Hampshire Grants, is divided into four counties: Charlotte County was the northwest quadrant; Albany County was the southwest quadrant; Gloucester County was the northeast quadrant; Cumberland County was the southeast quadrant.

At that time our town was chartered as “Charlotta,” the German name for King George III’s bride, while the county was likely the English variant of Charlotte. Prior to 1783, our town had no permanent residents, so the naming appears coincidental; but what happened to this county configuration?

Vermont (and Charlotte) began life as the Hampshire Grants, but the problem was that the Grants were actually in a far-flung corner of territory considered part of New York by that state at that time.

The Duke of York’s charter of 1664 had established the boundaries of the northern colonies. From Lake Champlain east to the Connecticut River, what is now known as Vermont, was claimed by the Colony of New York, but New Hampshire colonial Gov. Benning Wentworth used the charter’s vague language to begin accepting applications for land grants beyond the river extending beyond the Connecticut into what would become Vermont soon after being appointed to office in 1741.

The September 1760 surrender of the city of Montreal heralded the eventual end of the French and Indian War that had begun in 1754. With the defeat of French forces in the North Country and Canada, Wentworth boldly seized the initiative to begin accepting grant applications all the way to Lake Champlain. Charlotte, Ferrisburgh and Hinesburgh received their Grants in 1762, with Burlington and Shelburne following in 1763. During any other period in the region’s history Wentworth’s land grants would probably never have been sustained.

In October 1760, the death of King George II threw the British government into chaos due to the shifting alliances and political intrigue swirling around the accession of young King George III. In 1763, Delaware Chief Pontiac, concerned by the rise of British power, its treaty abrogations and subsequent incursions into tribal lands, united several Indigenous nations and rebelled. The war did not end until 1765 and was effectively a British defeat.

Despite cessation of hostilities in this area, the war between Britain and France was ongoing in Europe, the West Indies, Africa and India. Shifting alliances and political intrigue in Europe brought Spain in on the side of the French, spreading the war to the Philippines. The impact on the British economy and the necessity of raising troops for their world war demanded the immediate attention of the British government to issues greater than contested land grants in a New World wilderness. The Stamp Act and new tea taxes caused violent colonial upheavals that forced the political focus away from boundary disputes. In addition, the movement of documents back and forth, along with the requisite hearings, took years, causing significant delays for any potential resolution to be proposed, much less decided.

This map from 1777 shows what would become Vermont divided into four counties, with the largest by far being Charlotte County.

During the hostilities in the North Country, New York authorities became aware of settlements that had been made in areas New York claimed. Wentworth had made 138 grants in total west from the Connecticut River to the mountains and north from the Massachusetts border to Lake Champlain. New York politics generally separated the eastern Hampshire Grants (civilized) from the western Hampshire Grants (wild frontier). General Burgoyne referred to the western Grants as being populated “with the most active, rebellious and hardy race of men on the continent.”

In the western Grants, settlement of the various towns tended to be by family groups that were generally poor, but close knit. Ethan Allen and his extended family arrived in Arlington, Vt., (chartered 1761) where the hopes for the Allen families’ fortunes were invested in land speculation in the western Grants that were being threatened by New York opposition to the validity of the Grants.

In Albany County, Sheriff Henry Ten Eyck publicly travelled through the Grants, but was ordered to secretly record the names of the settlers. New York’s Gov. Cadwallader Colden then falsified their signatures on a petition to George III that requested their lands be transferred to New York jurisdiction. The New York administration subsequently ordered all residents to deliver up their New Hampshire lands and re-purchase New York titles. When the settlers of the western Grants were disinclined to do so, New York authorities proceeded to re-grant the land. This threatened financial ruin to Allen and would mean desolation for the hardscrabble pioneers who would lose everything they had.

While settlers in the western Grants were to be dispossessed, those in the eastern Grants were allowed to purchase New York titles at half-price. A petition was sent to George III and the Privy Council about these circumstances that resulted in a “cease and desist” proclamation in 1767, ordering New York to halt the practice and await further adjudication; but New York’s Governor at the time, Sir Henry Moore, refused to acknowledge it, probably on the advice of Colden.

Ethan Allen was elected to represent the interests of the settlers to protest the New York eviction writs through the courts; however in 1770 at the Court in Albany, the judge refused to allow any patents, grants or charters brought by Allen and Connecticut barrister Jared Ingersoll to be introduced in evidence. This demonstrated that attempts to work within the system were doomed to fail and that New York authorities were untrustworthy. Knowing that Allen spoke for all, he was offered bribes to withdraw his opposition to New York’s policies, which he summarily rejected.

Upon his return to Bennington, settlers organized to fight for their rights, electing Ethan Allen as Colonel. They soon became a terror to New York authorities and surveyors. New York soon put a bounty on his head, along with other leaders of the resistance. Allen responded that they would happily take on all who tried to collect the reward and placed a reciprocal bounty on the heads of the New York authorities.

On May 16, 1771, North Carolina Colonial Gov. William Tryon had brutally suppressed a revolt by the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance. Tryon then had several of the ringleaders executed without trial. The Regulators were a group of poor settlers organized in a similar fashion as Allen and the Boys, who voiced strikingly comparable grievances. Shortly after Alamance, Tryon was installed as New York’s governor with the expectation that he could accomplish the same results against the protestors in the Grants. Governor Tryon promised to drive Allen and his impromptu militia into the Green Mountains, and the Green Mountain Boys were officially born.

On July 19, 1771, under orders from Tryon, Albany County Sheriff Henry Ten Eyck led a 750-man detachment from Albany, N.Y., to James Breckenridge’s house in Bennington to evict him forcibly. It can only be conjectured whether his orders were also to provoke a confrontation with the Green Mountain Boys and defeat them in battle. Allen and 300 men raced to secure positions that threatened to assault the posse on its arrival. When confronted by entrenched lines covered by an unknown number of combatants, Ten Eyck demurred on proceeding with the eviction and retreated to New York without firing a shot. The Green Mountain Boys allowed their peaceful withdrawal.

Two of Breckenridge’s sons, Jonathan and Francis, would later move to Charlotte.

In Arlington, Vt., on March 21, 1772, about 50 New York bounty hunters wounded and captured Remember Baker, Ethan Allen’s cousin, and hurried to get him to Albany. During the mêlée, Baker’s wife attempted to intervene and was slashed with a sword and seriously wounded. Ten Green Mountain Boys mounted up and raced after them, intercepting them near a crossroads about 30 miles away. Thinking that they were about to be attacked by a larger force, the Yorkers ran for their lives and Baker was rescued.

Many threats and intimidations occurred (with a few settlers being killed); but beginning in 1775 at Boston and on Lexington Green, greater events would take precedence. Vermont (from the French verde mont, meaning “green mountain”) would form itself into an independent republic in 1777, then become the 14th state in 1791. New York’s grand scheme for the Hampshire Grants would come to naught, and their map become an historical curiosity.

(Dan Cole is president of the Charlotte Historical Society.)