The following stories were submitted during Archives Month in October 2010. For more
information on Archives Month visit
Left click on the + / -- to expand or collapse the stories listed below.
African-American Farmers in Hinesburg - Submitted by Missy Ross
A gentleman from Boston stopped in one day about 5 years ago saying that he had come across
something on-line indicating that his ancestors had settled here on Lincoln Hill. He was
wonderfully charming and warm and I sent him to my friend's house on Lincoln Hill where the
"black" cemetery had been located, though it had fallen into a state of disrepair and was now
all but invisible. A year or so later, a woman named Elise Guyette (who was getting her PHD
at UVM) came in and began researching the black settlement on Lincoln Hill. I gave her the
contact info for this young man and they began keeping in touch. Elise spent many days in
our vault going through old documents that we never make available to anyone as they are
quite fragile. She ended up publishing a book called Discovering Black
Vermont: African American Farmers in Hinesburg, 1790-1890. She has been doing book
signings and talks around the State so perhaps you have read about it? Now the State has put
up an historic marker at the bottom of Lincoln Hill.
Missy Ross is Town Clerk & Treasurer for the Town Of Hinesburg
The Town's Cemetery - Submitted by Tammy Legacy
A few years ago, there was a dispute between a landowner and the town on who owned a cemetery on
their property. The landowner said it was theirs and did not want people going on their property
to visit the cemetery.
Our town clerk at the time researched the land records and found a deed in the early years of our
town that gave the town a 999 year lease to the cemetery. That was great news especially for the
people whose ancestors are buried there.
Tammy Legacy is Town Clerk for the Town of Roxbury
Discovering the Princes - Submitted by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina
Researching Mr. and Mrs. Prince, the story of African American Vermont
settlers Lucy Terry Prince and Abijah Prince, led to a number of unexpected finds for me and my
husband Anthony Gerzina. Archives formed the backbone of the research; archives that weren't
always in libraries or conventional locations. One of the days that remains particularly exciting
for us was when a University of Vermont special collections librarian suggested that we take a look
at the uncatalogued materials in their annex. Access hours were limited, and we rushed through
boxes of materials, hoping to find some information on their lives: court cases, property information,
letters concerning them, perhaps town meeting notes. In the last moments, just before the annex closed,
Anthony picked up a small notebook. It turned out to be the notes of the lawyer hired by Eli Bronson;
Lucy's sons were suing him to regain the property acquired by their father decades before. In that
moment we realized we had what people had been looking for, for over 150 years: the story of Lucy
Terry Prince's taking her case all the way to a supreme court."
Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina and Anthony Gerzina are the authors of Mr. and Mrs. Prince
The Romprey Murders - Submitted by Brian Lindner
In 1976 I was looking through the Special Collections Department of the University of Vermont library.
Specifically, I was looking for anything that might relate to Vermont's most famous air disaster, the
1944 Army Air Force bomber crash on Camels Hump. I was pointed to the Detore Collection of photographic
negatives and after hours of searching, found several excellent images which turned out to be absolutely
key in my research. The photographer, James Detore of Burlington, had taken thousands of crime, insurance,
and general interest photos during the 1930s and 40s - including several plane crashes.
While looking for the plane crash photos, I saw one sleeve of negatives with Detore's handwriting. It said,
"Romprey murders." I had grown up in Waterbury and knew Bernard Romprey as a very quiet, kind, and
successful businessman with a jewelry store on Main Street. Out of curiosity, I looked at the negatives and
was amazed to learn that he had committed Vermont's first quadruple murder in 1945. I put the negatives back
with the intention of researching the story - someday.
After Romprey died at age 90 in 2007, I began to research the story in detail. It seems this was the classic
case of temporary insanity. Romprey snapped one day and coldly executed the Bliss Mansfield family in Essex
Center. From the beginning, everyone involved realized that here was a man who had been sending loud signals
for help that everyone ignored. Romprey had even told his commanders in the Army that he was becoming dangerous
for reasons he didn't understand. He was never prosecuted but was instead sent to the Vermont State Hospital
where he was treated and trained as a jeweler. After his release, he led a very productive and honest life
with a successful business.
The chance discovery of Detore's crime scene negatives uncovered a long-forgotten story of a Vermont tragedy
but it also uncovered a case where the Criminal Justice system really worked in exactly the way we would all
hope it would on a routine basis.
Brian Lindner is an aviation historian
Uncovering the Black Snake Affair - Submitted by John Lovejoy
Bravo for archives. Dig, dig, dig and all of a sudden a Eureka moment occurs. The doors of Vermont History
are opened a bit wider than before. Here are several such moments.
One occurred while doing research on the Black Snake Affair (1808 – 1809). More specifically while digging into
the appeal of a 'death sentence' by Cyrus B. Dean before the Vermont Legislature's 1808 session convened. Dean
had been found guilty by a jury of being an accessory to the murder of Asa March, a federalized Vermont militia
man from Rutland, and Jonathan Ormsby, a local farmer from Burlington.
The Archives at Middlesex contain a rather substantial collection of Legislative Session records. And suddenly
there they were. Eureka! The actual bills for labour and materials which were required for Dean's gallows built
by Content C. Hallock and Israel Williams, both Burlington carpenters: "Timber for the Gallows frame and drawing
the frame $5.00; 304 feet of planks $7.20; Boards $1.60; Nails and Spikes $3.00;Posts and Ropes for the Yard and
making the Frame $10.00; to raising Gallows $4.00, total of $30.80."
Newly elected Governor Tichenor and the Council along with the House members knew when they began their deliberations
on Dean's appeal that the sentence of death would take place on October 28. For a host of reasons the legislature took
until October 27th to reach a decision: Dean received a two week reprieve, from Friday, October 28 to Friday,
November 11. When the Legislature was almost finished with Dean's appeal it was mid-afternoon of the 27th. - Eureka -
the House passed a resolution "that the Secretary of State [Thomas Leverett, Esq.] be, and he is hereby directed to
transmit by express to the Sheriff [Daniel Stanford] of the County of Chittenden without delay the Act granting a
reprieve to Cyrus B. Dean."
A horse rider was found to carry the message from Montpelier to Burlington, about two and a half to three hours
away in the crisp dark October night. A large crowd had already accumulated the night before the 28th to watch
the first and last public hanging ever performed in Chittenden County. It was to be a public spectacle of
incredible proportions. On the morning of the 28th even more folks came to Burlington from farms throughout the
County and beyond to join the event and to view Dean swing off about three o'clock in the afternoon from the newly
constructed gallows. The tiny Burlington with it's narrow paths overrun, few buildings of any kind in which to rest,
and at bottom no place to sit. The crowd was crammed, overflowing, truly bursting.
Cyrus B. Dean in his own way may well have been appreciative of a two week reprieve, though it was hardly what he
had hoped for in his appeal. A young man, recently married with a small child, fairly well 'oiled' on the day of
the incident on August 3rd. The two week reprieve the Legislature granted would give him a bit more time "to
contemplate upon the realities of a future world and prepare for his exit to the world of spirits." The gathering
crowd however was furious on the 28th: deprived of their anticipated viewing of a public hanging; being given
virtually no notice of the delayed event; it rekindled their mixed feelings about the conduct of the trial and
it's lopsided results, the questionable politics involving the Jeffersonian Embargo tangled up in the heated
Republican versus Federalist quarrels.
Another Eureka moment, Sherriff Stanard's final bill against the State for the amount for hanging Cyrus. B. Dean:
"For Hanging Cyrus B. Dean $300.00; 4 Deputies 6 days, @ 2 per day $40.00; Hallock and Williams Bill $63.53;
Blacksmith Bill $2.00; Guard to Guard the Prison and Second Gallows after the first being torn down $20.00; Burial
Clothes $4.25; total $438.78"
A short, revealing memo accompanies the Sheriff's accounting of costs shedding light on what really occurred between
October 28 and November 11, 1808. "I do hereby certify and declare that after the Legislature refused to reprieve
Dean the second time I was obliged to augment the guard in order to prevent the destruction of the jail and the
escape of Dean and found it necessary to personally attend as well as my Deputies the whole time night and day.
Attest Dan Stanford".
These four valuable archival documents shed much light on the overall story of the Black Snake Affair. In a very
real sense they are there at Middlesex for the digging as are many, many other documents.
John Lovejoy is a historian who has researched and written on various Vermont
topics, including the Black Snake Affair and Alexander Twilight
The Town Charters - Submitted by Nora Wilson
Years ago, before I became Town Clerk and before we put the big addition on our building, Harold Makepeace
found a box in the damp crawl space under the building with some very old papers folded up inside. They
turned out to be the original charters for the town: the first, from King George II, dated 1751, which was
forfeited because Indian fighting prevented settlers from meeting its provisions and the second, from George
III, dated 1761; and the original right map with a grid layout of roads that might have worked in Kansas but
did not take into account the steep ridges that run through town. Harold had these documents preserved by
Brown's River. I now keep the originals in Mylar sleeves in the plat cabinet. I had copies made and plan
to have the copies framed for hanging in the office.
Nora Wilson is the Town Clerk for the Town of Marlboro
The Boarder's Journal - Submitted by Bobbi Brimblecombe
My family had a visit a couple of weeks ago from a man who lives in Maine. He works for some outdoor education
center. The founder of the organization was the school master of the New Discovery School when he was 17, in
1904. He boarded at my house, and he kept a very detailed journal, including a hand-drawn sketch of his room.
From the windows we can tell that his room was what is now our dining room. The journal describes what school
was like every day, and he also describes a hike that he took up Burnt Mountain. The gentleman that stopped
by asked permission to park in our driveway so he could take the same hike and write about it in his company's
Bobbi Brimblecombe is the Town Clerk for the Town of Marshfield
A Revolutionary Soldier in the Land Records - Submitted by Mary Ann Wilson
One of our frequent flyers is a lady who does genealogy research for herself and others. She was having a
difficult time finding the lineage for James Little, a Revolutionary War soldier. She searched every record
possible – vitals, cemeteries, town history, old newspapers, etc. to no avail. Exasperated, she began to
look through land records for any clues. Lo and behold, she found his last will and testament in Volume #2,
dated 1809, listing all of his heirs. Her eureka moment and discovery of a will in the land records taught
her the importance and value of the land records archives.
Mary Ann Wilson is the Town Clerk and Treasurer for the Town of Morristown
Preserving Student Records - Submitted by Barbara Taylor
As a graduate of Windham College, it was nice to learn that the State held all the college transcripts.
Students could obtain proper documentation in order to comply with "No Child Left Behind" and also go
on to Graduate School or new work situations. It was sad to have the school close but we never realized
that it had also been a link to continuing our careers. The Archives filled that need.
Barbara Taylor is Assistant Town Clerk for the Town of Putney
Connecting with an Ancestor in a Town Report - Submitted by Allison Kaiser
I had an ah-ha moment when looking through duplicate copies of old town reports to pass along to our
Historical Society. I inadvertently found where my great, great grandfather used to clean the very
building that I now work in for $3 per week in 1908! Kinda cool!
Allison Kaiser is the Town Clerk for the Town of Stowe
Studying Vermont's Climate over Time - Submitted by Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux
Historical documents are indispensable in reconstructing the weather history of Vermont in the pre-1890
period. Such documents include weather entries in the personal diaries of farmers, ministers and
homemakers; a book written by Frank E. Hartwell of the Weather Bureau in 1958; a text about Burlington
published in 1905; the writings of Dr. Hiram A. Cutting, the Lunenburgh observer; theses and other papers
of the Historic Preservation Department of the University of Vermont; historical postcards, sketches,
photographs, maps and topographic surveys housed in the Special Collections of the Bailey/Howe Library of
the University of Vermont; and holdings at the Vermont Historical Society and the Lunenburg Historical Society.
While these accounts and the pictorial evidence are fascinating in their own right, together they paint a
picture of what Vermont's weather was like in the pre-1948 era – not only in the towns of Burlington and
Lunenburg, but across the entire state as well. For example, Hartwell's 1958 book reveals the intricacies
of the relationship among the Weather Bureau, Canadian Colonial Airways and the airport, Burlington's
economy and the University of Vermont. Similarly, a thorough analysis of Dr. Cutting records would allow
for the identification of cold or frost hollows which are common in Vermont, as cold air drainage and
differential heating of the slopes cause significant variations from one part of the landscape to the next.
Finally, such long-term weather data are a critical input to analysis of how climate has changed in Vermont,
not only in the past but also in recent times.
Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at UVM and the State Climatologist
The Town Baseball Field - Submitted by Deborah Palmer
We had a woman come into the office saying that her father and uncle used to say that their family had
donated the local baseball field to the Town to be used for sports for the children of Williamstown. It
had been named after a different family for many years so even she was doubting her dad's memory. When
she came in to research the land we did indeed find that it was donated by her grandfather. She was so
happy to have that deed to show her Dad she stood here with tears in her eyes and was so very thankful.
The Town is going to make a plaque stating that the field was donated by her Grandfather.
Deborah Palmer is the Town Clerk for the Town of Williamstown.
Of Buildings and Benefactors - Submitted by Susie Haughwout
We have an unusual case in Wilmington presently being discussed between the Selectboard, Deerfield Valley
Farmers' Day Association President and the elected CC Haynes Trustee. It concerns the will of CC Haynes.
Although it is unusual for a will to be recorded in the Town's land records, this one can be found in Book
27, Page 56. The will directs the Town to elect a Trustee for the funds left to the Town by the deceased.
The Town elects this Trustee each year at Town Meeting.
At some point not too long after 1918 the Trustee authorized (with permission of the Town) construction of
an exhibition hall on town property abutting property owned by the fair association. The Hall continues to
be used to house Youth Exhibits. Over the years the CC Haynes Fund also has been used to offer scholarships
to young people heading into agricultural careers, even veterinarian careers. As there is no transfer
document of record concerning the actual building, we are depending on the reading of the recorded will to
guide us in answering modern day questions related to this fund and subsequent building.
We have another building in town, Memorial Hall, which also was donated. The deed to the Town for that
building includes the following restrictions: "This conveyance is made subject to this condition – that no
games of chance, wrestling matches, boxing matches, cock fights or entertainments at all repugnant to
morality or public sentiment, shall be allowed in said Memorial Hall – that the pictures and portraits upon
the walls and additions etc unto shall be allowed to remain and that one day in each and every year its free
use of said Memorial Hall shall be devoted to a memorial service."
In looking up the deed to Memorial Hall, I recently noted that a clerk made index notes referring to two Town
Meeting record books. When I looked those up there were two town meetings in 1947 and in 1953 where the town
voted to allow the free use of Memorial Hall to the schools. At a recent Selectboard meeting we approved a new
fee schedule for the Hall including a $200 fee for the schools. I called the Town Manager and asked if he was
aware of the Town votes allowing the free use – he was not. We will now be amending the fee schedule in the
near future and the Town Manager is calling the principal today to tell him that we will not be charging the
school $200 after all.
Susie Haughwout is Town Clerk for the Town of Wilmington.
Archival Moments - Submitted by Paul Gillies
I am sitting in a cold vault, in bad light, the calf-bound book open before me, staring at the page. I have
been here, alone, for four hours. The metal chair scrapes on the floor as I lean back to grab another volume,
twisting to reach it, feeling its weight as it leaves the shelf, dropping to reach the table. I flail the
pages and move my head closer to the open page. Suddenly, there it is, at long last, the road survey that has
cost me three days of reading and reasoning, headaches and sneezes, false starts and dead ends, all the necessary
discomforts of research finally justified. There should be a flourish of trumpets, a flash of lights, at least
the ringing of a small bell, to signal the discovery. But all is quiet. I have to stand up. I want to shout,
or do a jig. But there is no one there to appreciate it but me.
Because my work demands it, I am privileged to spend part of my time in town vaults. Behind those massive doors,
the heart of civilized life in that distinct political subdivision is preserved in books -- records of town
meetings, land transfers, and official action involving roads and bridges. These records were well kept by
generations of town clerks, whose days were spent writing and copying deeds, minutes, and other official actions
into the books.
The quiet victories of research are usually unheralded.
Merrill Perley, State Representative from Enosburg, stuck his head in the door. He had heard there was land
adjacent to his town that belonged to no town. It was a story told by many of the old-timers over the years,
but nobody got around to doing anything about it. Would I check?
I looked the charters and early surveys. I put maps together, and connected the lines. Between the early
surveyors' practice of using town lines as monuments for other towns, the lotting plans, and the tax maps from
each of the towns, there appeared a 300-acre parcel of land never conveyed in any town charter to a set of
proprietors, in a valley called the Gibou, between Montgomery, Bakersfield, and Enosburg. Tracing the titles
back to the beginning led to a British land-jobber who had no claim to the land.
The charters referred to a cross on a rock, as a corner of the land that was named "Perley's Gore" in the
legislative act. One cold winter's day, Secretary of State James H. Douglas led a party of officials into
the Gibou, starting at the cross, which had been chipped into the rock to mark the corner.
Titles were unsound. The landowners paid no taxes on much of the land in the Gibou. The real title remained
in the people of Vermont. Thence followed a special meeting of the select boards of the three towns, with
Montgomery taking the land, as it was solely accessible from that town. The legislature confirmed the plan,
and new deeds were issued to the landowners by the State. The hole in the map was filled.
During the time Gregory Sanford and I were working on the Records of the Council of Censors, I was let into the
Vermont Room at the State Law Library, and the glass-fronted cabinets were unlocked so that I could see what was
there. These are the oldest books owned by the State, and include the rarest of early publications.
The State had published the Journals and Addresses of the thirteen Councils that had met to recommend amendments
to the Vermont Constitution, and repeal of acts deemed contrary to the constitution. The documents were so frail
that even photocopying was now too risky. So it was deemed prudent to publish them. We edited the text, wrote
introductions and comments on the Councils, and the volume was finally printed in time for the Statehood Bicentennial.
In the Vermont Room, in the cabinet, I found the original draft of the 1786 Address of the Council. Unindexed and
unknown to any scholar working in the field of Vermont constitutional law, it had survived all those years--including
the 1857 fire that destroyed the State House. We published the changes at the end of the volume, including this
criticism of an act for settling disputes about real property, which the Council's first draft described as
resolving conflicts "in the same manner as a Giant would settle a Combat between two school boys by felling the
strongest to the Ground with his Cudgel."
The opportunity to see drafts of early documents is rare. There are wonderful discoveries yet to be made in our archives.
Paul Gillies is a partner in the law firm of Tarrant, Gillies, Merriman & Richardson.
He served as Deputy Secretary of State from 1980 to 1992.
Historic Film of the Vermont State Guard- Submitted by Fred Pond
During a job transition period in my career, I have begun researching old 16mm films at the Vermont Historical
Society collections. An AV geek in my high school days, I am somehow drawn to learning more about the films,
as few are cataloged; the titles/subjects are resident in the VHS librarian's memories though they deal with
the sheer load of papers they deal with daily.
The society's films are a mix of films stretching from 1910's to the 1980's. The collection includes commercially
produced films such as State of Vermont development films and EPA-funded environmental films, some home movies,
as well as some Vermont based films, typically shot at parades and other important events of the day.
One film, in particular, has attracted interest by local societies; a 1940's film which documents the activities
of the newly formed Vermont State Guard, a state-based militia charged with protecting Vermont while World War II
was fought overseas. I initially spotted it in the vault by the titling on the side of the film can 'Montpelier -
Silent', further investigation revealed it included scenes all around the state, telling the story of Company B of
the VSG which while based in Montpelier area, participated in state-wide meetings.
While Vermont State Guard, 1941-1944 is a silent film, the color is vibrant and features title shots that provide
extensive details to the location, participant names, dates and military activity.
But for all the information provided in the film, nothing indicates who the filmmaker was, or at least the cameraman.
That's when the chase (research) really began on the film. After a visit to the Vermont Militia Museum at Camp
Johnson, we stopped by the new Vermont State Archives in Middlesex, finding another copy of the film complete with
a one-page detailed description of the making of the film. This provided the filmmaker's name, H.L. Bailey. A
Vermont government directory of the time revealed the full name, Harold L. Bailey, an entomologist with the state
Now, on to locate living relatives, as the directory mentioned three children - I figured if I was lucky, maybe one
might still be alive. Ancestry.com found the Baileys in Bradford (VT) at the 1930 census, indicating the first-born
was named Brickett. That led nowhere - as later I learned that Brickett was a nickname. Researching the girls led
me some way, but a brief marriage and subsequent divorce left me without more tracks on one and the other no luck at
By now my head was swirling with ancestry names & dates, but no results. I reached for Google, typing various
versions of Harold L. Bailey and Vermont, inserting quotation signs around various versions of the name. Luckily, I
came across a 1998 obituary that detailed the life of a favorite physician in the New Hampshire seacoast area, whose
father was Harold Bailey, a state entomologist in Vermont! The search closed when I phoned a surviving son in Hyde
Park (VT), Harold L. Bailey II, confirming indeed the earlier Harold L. Bailey was his grandfather.
This story closes at the recent premičre of the digitized film, where the grandson viewed a film he never knew his
grandfather worked on; thanks to research at VSARA, the 1940's government directory, Ancestry.com, then finally
Google and the old favorite, the telephone.
Summary: Film research is not insular. A variety of resources can be used to enhance, or bring a fresh or different
view to the film.
Fred Pond is a moving image archivist at the Vermont Historical Society.
A Daring Prison Escape and Shootout Submitted by Brian Lindner
While researching something entirely different a few years ago, I accidentally stumbled across the story of a
wild 1931 "Bonnie and Clyde" style ambush on Route 108 in Stowe. Civilians blocked the road and when a stolen
car with an escaping murderer appeared, everyone began blasting away with a variety of firearms. Over the years,
the case file in the sheriff's department had vanished as had all of the subsequent trial materials. There was
only one source left (besides newspaper clippings) that could provide insight and details into this story.
Thus began my search for the old Windsor State Prison records. Depending on whom one asked, the files are
"some place" but not open to the public, they were destroyed at some point in the past, they are on microfilm -
somewhere, they are in the Middlesex Records Center, they are at UVM, or they are still with the Department of
Corrections - somewhere.
Several members of the Archives staff at the Vermont State Archives in Middlesex pitched in during both face-to-
face visits and many e-mail exchanges. Everyone went the extra step to help and locate the prisoner's file.
Eventually, it was found and provided an amazing insight into the story of the murder, the shootout/capture,
the murderer, and even into the history of the prison itself.
But...there was still one more bonus. One document in the prisoner's file, added after he had escaped and been
recaptured, contained a comment by the warden that "this was the most ingenious escape ever from this prison"..........
thus begins another research project...........
Brian Lindner is an historian whose research interests range from aviation to the infamous.
Great Deeds Submitted by Bobbi Brimblecombe
I have tried to research the deeds to the old town forest, but the deed that I really needed conveyed "all
the property I have left" after many, many transfers, "meaning to convey all the land towards the pond, where
the timber now stands" - in 1910 or thereabouts. I'm not even sure which pond - Bailey or Turtlehead, and
couldn't begin to guess where the timber stood at the time.
I think it would be fun to highlight some of the other goofy references in old deeds. I remember one where a
woman leased her farm, including use of her colt, stating how much the colt was worth (which seemed like it was
quite a bit for the times), with the understanding that whoever was leasing the farm would take her father to
his doctors' appointments. Another deed transferred a farm and all of the tools with the exception of a hand
shovel. I don't know what was so special about the shovel but the seller wanted to keep it. One of the
Folsom Hill residents has a deed that guarantees water from the town springs for $10/year.
Bobbi Brimblecombe is the Town Clerk for the Town of Marshfield
A Fish Story Submitted by Paul Searls
I have had many “eureka!” moments in my years of doing research. These are some of the most satisfying
experiences in doing historical research. The past can be so unknowable, so complex, that one can reach a
point where you fear you will never remotely understand what you are researching. It can even be the case
that, the more research you do, the more confused you become. So it is enormously gratifying when one
suddenly hits on a primary document that brilliantly illuminates a topic.
These “eureka!” moments often come at the most unexpected times. One that comes to mind occurred when I
was trying to understand how Vermont’s urban folk and its hill farmers understood differently what
constituted wise use of natural resources in the Gilded Age. This was just a part of the bigger picture I
was trying to understand: the ideological divisions between those who lived in Vermont’s big towns and in
its small towns. But I knew that contrasting uses of the land were a very important part of that division,
and I groped to come to some appreciation of those differences.
This quest led me to the Reports of the Fish and Game Commission at UVM”s Special Collections, and
eventually to an address delivered in 1872 to the state legislature by Middleton Goldsmith, the head of
the Commission. After reading hours of Fish and Game reports, my eyes were fairly well glazed over, but
when I got to page five of the address, suddenly it all made sense. Goldsmith was attempting to persuade
the legislature’s farmers that they should change how they used streams in order to encourage salmon to
return to Vermont. He took a metaphorical tack that he thought his audience might appreciate. “If a man
should appear before you tonight,” he said,” and he should tell you that if you would provide a pathway
through the confines of the State—that if you would only bridge over the impassable streams, every calf
at weaning time turned loose upon the highway would go away to the distant pastures of the western wilds,
and return a full grown 3-year old, fat and ready for the butcher, I take it another spring time would
hardly clothe our forests ere every stream would be bridged for this bovine migration.”
I was elated (and not just because “bovine migration” is a really great name for a rock band). Nothing
could have made it more clear to me that people like Goldsmith were disinterested in trying to understand
why their opponents used natural resources as they did, and disinterested in concealing their contempt for
them. And it was also made clear to me that the rural folk had good reason to dismiss the advice of such
supposed “experts.” Because, no matter how much less schooling he may have had than Middleton Goldsmith, I
can guarantee that the most remote hill farmer in Vermont knew the difference between a cow and a fish.
Paul Searls is an Assistant Professor of History at Lyndon State College
From Peacham to San Francisco and Back - Submitted by Lynn Bonfield
In the early 1970s when I was curator of manuscripts at the California Historical Society,
I picked off the shelf a large copy book and opened the cover. The words at the top of the
first page told me that I had opened the "Daily Journal of Alfred an Chastina W. Rix."
Beginning on their wedding day in Peacham, Vermont, July 29, 1849, the journal continued
until April 23, 1854 in San Francisco. This newly married New England couple alternated
entries producing a unique diary telling how they ended up in San Francisco, more than 3,000
miles from home. Yes, "gold fever" played a role, but so did the devotion they had to each
other and the politics and opinions they shared. Two generations later their granddaughter
in 1949 donated the journal to CHS.
In the late 1970s I rented a car after attending archival meetings in Boston and drove to
Peacham where I immediately started research on the Rixes at the town office. In 1980 I began
spending summers in Peacham, and now thirty years later I live half a year in a farmhouse that
my partner, Karen R. Lewis, also an archivist, and I bought in 1983. The Rix Journal brought
me from San Francisco to Peacham, the reverse trip of Alfred and Chastina. Their story will be
published next spring by the Arthur H. Clark Company, an imprint of the University of Oklahoma
Press, under the title "New England to Gold Rush California."
Lynn Bonfield is Director Emerita of the Labor Archives and Research Center
San Francisco State University
Connecting through Collections - Submitted by Paul Carnahan
At the Vermont Historical Society Library we help people make discoveries all the time, some
are incremental and some are rather dramatic. The most dramatic experience that I remember
was many years ago when we were still in the Pavilion Building in Montpelier. A man and his
wife came in and asked to look at the "Strad" Gray papers, a collection from an eccentric
Vermonter that we had recently processed. Strad had been married very briefly. A daughter
had resulted from that union, but mother and daughter had left for California in 1919 when
the daughter was very young. The man in my library was the son of that daughter. He had
never known his grandfather. As he looked through the three boxes of material that Strad
had accumulated over his lifetime he broke down and cried. He was connecting with his
unknown grandfather in a way that he could never have imagined. He was doing more than
learning the facts of his grandfather's life from a computer screen; he was holding documents
that had formed his grandfather's life.
Paul Carnahan is Librarian at the Vermont Historical Society
A Novel Discovery: Union Sympathizers in Atlanta - Submitted by Jeffrey Marshall
As a History graduate student at UVM in the early 1980s I studied the papers of a Vermont woman,
Louisa Bailey Whitney, who became a foreign missionary. After spending ten years in Micronesia
in the 1870s, she returned to Vermont, and much later she wrote a novel about a Vermont woman in
Atlanta during the Civil War, called Goldie's Inheritance.
This fictional character was part of a circle of Union sympathizers who secretly aided northern
prisoners of war, risking severe punishment from the authorities. It was an odd little book and
it didn't sell very well.
Several years after finishing my master's degree, I received a phone call from History professor
Tom Dyer at the University of Georgia. Professor Dyer had found half of a diary kept by a woman
in Atlanta during the Civil War, and had discovered that she was from Vermont. He was very
excited because it was one of very few surviving first-hand accounts of Union sympathizers in
Atlanta—but the story was incomplete. I don't recall exactly how he found me, but when he
described the diary I immediately realized that it paralleled Goldie's Inheritance.
The novel, it turned out, was a barely fictionalized retelling of the story of Cyrena Bailey Stone,
Louisa's older sister, who had spent the war in Atlanta. Although half of the diary had gone
missing, Professor Dyer was confident that he could largely corroborate the events that played
out in the novel. In 1999 he published his work as Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in
Confederate Atlanta (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).
Jeffrey Marshall is the Director of Research Collections at the Bailey/Howe Library
the University of Vermont
A Vault of Treasures - Submitted by Elise Guyette
Until 2010, when I published my research, the story of a black farming community
in Hinesburg has been hidden for 215 years. But traces of their lives remained both
on the landscape and in the town vault. As I wrote in my book, "Henry Louis Gates
Jr. calls such artifacts history-in-waiting, history in suspended animation,
waiting to tell their story." To me, the vault holding the records of early Hinesburgh was
like a proverbial underground chamber full of rough-cut gold, diamonds, and rubies,
waiting to be discovered. I camped out in the vault to study everything I could find,
including census and court records, land transaction books, business directories,
store account books, church records, accounts of school trustees, birth, death,
marriage and cemetery records, town meeting reports … the list goes on and on.
The most exciting finds were discovering items that hadn't been touched by human
hands for a hundred or more years. I came across an ancient map rolled up on a
top shelf that had never been studied, much less published, within living memory.
I also unearthed some yellowed grand lists that were rolled in animal skins and
tied with antiquated ribbons. To open such items was more exciting than unwrapping
birthday presents – they contained incredible gems about the lives of farmers on
Lincoln Hill, which sometimes took my breath away and helped me put their stories
One of the most exciting things to contemplate is that there are many more such
stories hidden in vaults all over Vermont (and beyond) waiting to be discovered.
They are waiting for a researcher to bring them to life.
Elise A. Guyette it the author of "Discovering Black Vermont: African American
Farmers in Hinesburgh, 1790-1890" (Dartmouth, VT: University Press of New England, 2010).
An Image of a President - Submitted by Mark Bushnell
When it comes to historical research, nothing beats finding the perfect document to
help us understand the past. But the perfect image comes close.
Paul Carnahan, librarian at the Vermont Historical Society, handed me just such an
image one day while I was researching Calvin Coolidge. Specifically, I was looking
for material about the July 1924 death of Coolidge's 16-year old son, Calvin Jr.,
and its effect on the president.
Coolidge was just completing his first year in office. He had succeeded to the presidency
after the death of Warren G. Harding and would win election in his own right several months
after his son's death, but to friends, he seemed to have become detached. One scholar has
even ascribed the president's famously distant persona, now an archetype of Yankee dourness,
to a case of depression Coolidge purportedly suffered after Calvin Jr. died. As Coolidge
explained in his autobiography, "When he went, the power and the glory of the Presidency
went with him."
Most accounts of the president's reactions to his son's death have him swallowing his emotions
like a good Yankee. But newspaperman John Lambert, who was with Coolidge in his office shortly
after young Calvin died, recorded another scene. The president turned his chair to look out
the window. "His eyes were moist," Lambert wrote. "Tear filled them. They ran down his cheeks.
He was not the president of the United States. He was the father, overcome by grief and love
for his boy. He wept unafraid, unashamed."
The photograph that Paul Carnahan unearthed made me understand, in a way no document could have,
just how severely the president felt his son's loss. The photo was pasted into a Coolidge family
album that had been donated to the Vermont Historical Society by Coolidge's other son, John. The
image, which was taken days before Calvin Jr.'s death, shows the boy smiling. To his right is his
mother, Grace, smiling beneath the brim of an ornate hat. To his left, almost unrecognizable, is
his father, the president, grinning broadly. It is as if the three were sharing a joke the moment
the photographer tripped the shutter.
The joy captured on the president's face in that moment told me all I can know of the heartbreak
he would suffer in the days and years ahead.
Mark Bushnell is a historian whose column, "Life in the Past Lane,
is a feature
in Vermont Sunday Magazine.
Uncovering the French Fort at Chimney Point - Submitted by Elsa Gilbertson
One winter day at the Chimney Point State Historic Site in Addison a few years ago I was looking
once again at the Web site for Library Archives Canada
for information about the early French history of Chimney Point. The Vermont Division for
Historic Preservation had received an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant with Vermont
Public Television and the Bixby Memorial Free Library in Vergennes for a big project to study the
time period from around the arrival of Samuel de Champlain into the lake up to the start of the
American Revolution. I kept playing with various words and phrases in the advanced search section of
the archives, and more and more exciting documents came up. Perhaps they had put more resources on
their web site since I'd last looked, or I was doing better at finding the words. Delivered right
into my lap was a 1731 map of Chimney Point and the French fort built that year; it was different
than the one we had been familiar with. Wow, it looked like my desk with the image on my computer
was right where the southwest bastion of the fort would have been.
Then there was the agreement with the keeper of the King's store to oversee construction of the fort,
as well as a scan of the document spelling out how supplies and materials would be sent from the King's
Store in Montreal for the new fort.
And then it got even better—there was the 1731 list of supplies and materials brought from the King's
Store—8 pages. Wow again. One of the items was for WINDOW GLASS. That might have been the first
window glass in what would become Vermont. Hmmm, hadn't I seen tiny thin fragments of window glass
in our own collections, gathered in the Chimney Point cellar in the late 1980s when our site's c.1785
tavern was being restored? Could that glass be from 1731? I showed photos of the glass fragments
to an archeologist who was an expert on this area and that time period. Yes, it could be glass from
that time. Andre Senecal, UVM Professor emeritus, told me that the French shipped glass to Quebec
in barrels of molasses to prevent breakage. Sure enough, a barrel of molasses was on the list.
And there were other items on the inventory for 1731, as well as 1732 and 1733 that shed light on
artifacts found on the site or nearby.
The good thing about this story is that it isn't finished yet. Archeologists from the University
of Vermont Consulting Archeology Program will be using this archives as they research this history
even further, in connection with their archeological work relating to the construction of the new
Lake Champlain Bridge. Who knows what else will turn up and help us with our understanding of
this special place?!
Elsa Gilbertson is a Regional Historic Site Administrator
for the Vermont Division
for Historic Preservation
Wolves in the Archives - Submitted by Kim Royar
Quite a few years ago I went to the State Archives to inquire about historic lynx records in
Vermont. I met Gregory Sanford and he graciously helped me look up an old record from the late
1700's. After some discussion, Greg said to me, "I think I may have something you would be
interested in" and proceeded to go down some creaky stairs to the basement. He brought back
up a large, leather-bound book filled with wolf bounty records from the late 1700's. Back
then, there was a $20.00 bounty on wolves. Once killed, the head of the dead wolf had to be
turned into the county clerk and an invoice was sent to the state treasurer, signed, and
archived. The $20.00 was returned to the person who shot the wolf--a significant sum of
money in those days.
As I went through the records, I was quite taken aback to hold receipts that had been signed
by Ira Allen and Thomas Chittenden. Because the information was so valuable, I began the
rather long tedious process of entering the individual receipts into a data base that included:
name of the person who shot the wolf, town of kill, date of kill, and number of wolves taken.
Fortuitously, a professor from Middlebury College was interested in having her students
participate in a special project and several members of the class then began to work at the
archives entering the receipt information into a database. The results were a series of three
historic maps spanning a 15 year period in the late 1700's that essentially documented both the
demise of a native Vermont predator and the settlement patterns of early Vermont. I have since
incorporated the maps into my public presentations and they provide invaluable information
about a species that was essentially extirpated from the state not 50 years later.
Kim Royar is a Wildlife Biologist with the Vermont Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
Oleomargarine - Submitted by Chris Burns
A few years ago, I was looking through some of the George Aiken Papers here at UVM.
Aiken served on the Senate Agriculture Committee for a very long time and I was looking into some of his work on dairy issues. As you might expect, most of the material had to deal with
the price of milk, but what caught my eye were a number of thick folders from 1948-1950 on the topic of oleomargarine. I was not familiar with “oleo” and certainly not familiar with the
various pieces of oleomargarine legislation that had been passed in Congress and at the state level. But after discovering a similar batch of material in the Elbert Brigham Papers, and learning
that the state of Vermont once had a piece of legislation that required all oleomargarine sold in Vermont to be colored pink, I became intrigued. I ended up writing a master's thesis
about the 1886 Oleomargarine debates in Congress, which resulted in the first federal act taxing and regulating margarine. It wasn’t until 1950 that the act was repealed. In fact, the measures had
actually been strengthened a couple of times over the ensuing years, making the sale of colored margarine prohibitively expensive. Many people still have memories of their parents or
grandparents mixing the yellow color into the margarine by hand after the product was purchased at the store. Wells, Richardson, and Co. of Burlington manufactured a special yellow
dye, annato, to color your margarine to make it look like butter.
It is this type of experience that I love so much about working with Archives. It’s the odd little events
that happened in history that once you dig a little deeper into them end up having a far greater meaning
and usually some contemporary resonance. To many, the history of oleomargarine legislation might not
pass that test. However, the uproar that began shortly after the invention of oleomargarine in France in
the late 19th century was due to some major concerns about issues such as the future of dairy farming,
fraud in the sale and marketing of food, and the role of government in regulating the competing economic
interests of different industries and different regions of the country. Many of the same questions and
arguments that arose in these 1886 debates are now being echoed in the controversy about Log Cabin
Natural Syrup. There are so many interesting stories waiting to be discovered in archives, stories that are
of interest in and of themselves but that can also shed some light on how we got to where we are and where
we might go next.
Chris Burns is Curator of Manuscripts in the Special Collections Department
of the Bailey-Howe Library at the University of Vermont
Amelia Earhart, Gypsies, and Tintypes - Submitted by Nakki Goranin
In doing research on women aviators in Vermont, I was becoming frustrated with the lack
of information and leads. Not to be forgotten is the wealth of information in the state archives. I mentioned to
Greg Sanford what I was searching for, and in a matter of minutes, he found a speech in one of the state records
that contained Amelia Earhart's speech in the Vermont State House. Using information and dates from this
record, was a key to my entire article!
Looking for information on another article I was writing, Greg Sanford recommended I check out the older books of
Vermont Statutes at the Special Collections library at UVM. Not only did I find statutes regarding gypsies' legal
rights and restrictions, but I accidently found a section on tintype photographers, which will be included in my next
book on tintypes (W.W. Norton 2012). It's unlikely, I would have ever thought of this avenue on my own.
Nakki Goranin is the author of “American Photobooth” (W.W. Norton, 2008)
Finding a Vermont Secret in Kansas- Submitted by Marilyn Blackwell
The greatest historical discoveries often turn up in unlikely places! In my research on journalist
Clarina Howard Nichols, who promoted woman’s rights and anti-slavery in Brattleboro, I followed her
pathway out to Kansas in the mid-1850s. As a young woman she had suffered through a shameful
divorce before remarrying, but no one—neither her colleagues in the woman’s rights movement nor
subsequent biographers—had discovered the real cause of her marital difficulties. Nichols
successfully hid her past to establish her respectability as a woman and writer. While scrutinizing
newspapers at the Kansas State Historical Society, I happened upon an anonymous account defending
the lobbying efforts of “Mrs. Nichols,” who had appeared daily at the territorial legislature.
In her justification, “Annie,” the author, told about the sufferings Mrs. Nichols had endured
with her first husband. Eureka! There was the story, and not only that, as I continued to read
the account, I realized that “Annie” was none other than Clarina Nichols. One piece of her secret
past was finally put into place.
Marilyn Blackwell is the author of “Frontier Feminist: Clarina Howard Nichols and
the Politics of Motherhood” (2010)