Stones and Bones — The mystery of Vernon’s Vanished Cemetery, Part III

By Barbara Emery Moseley

John and Polly (Peeler) Lee’s son George Washington Lee was, like his father, an accomplished builder/carpenter. At least one example of his skill remains in town. It is the Pond Road Chapel, built on land he owned. Funds were raised by subscription, and it cost about one thousand dollars. Completed in 1860 for the then recently organized congregation of Advent Christians, its architectural style is a modified Greek Revival, popular at the time.

Pond Road was then called the South Road, or City Road, and was a narrow dirt road, as they all were, throughout the town. In that year, Vernon’s population was 725, it had seven schools, 43 dogs, two churches and one Agricultural Library, which was purchased by 21 members at a cost of $105.

The Chapel succeeded Vernon’s first meeting house, a large two-story structure located on a bluff overlooking the river (above the location of the current Town Tomb). Built for the use of the Congregationalists and Baptists, it was used for Town Meetings as well. (more…)

Stones and bones, where can they be? The mystery of Vernon’s vanished cemetery, Part II

By Barbara Emory Moseley

The Polly Lee Cemetery (see Part I) probably started as the family burying ground of the large Lee clan that, in 1781, moved to Vernon (at the time known as Hinsdale).

John Lee, the family patriarch and a widower, accompanied them. He died within a few years (1784) and is buried in the South Cemetery, with a slate gravestone. This implies that there had not yet been time to set aside land for a family cemetery.

The three older Lee sons cleared land for their farms in the area of today’s Newton Road. The youngest son, John, received the least desirable acreage but he made the most of it. It was rocky and mountainous, and tillable soil was pebbly as well. (more…)

Stones and bones, where can they be? The mystery of Vernon’s vanished cemetery, Part I

By Barbara Emory Moseley

For many years the income from the Polly A. Lee Cemetery Fund has appeared in the Vernon Town Report. Possibly a few people have a faint memory of the existence of the cemetery itself, in the area of today’s Breezy Acres, off Newton Road. No traces of it remain today. Its secrets unfold with the story of Polly’s father, John Jacob Peeler.

During the American Revolution, he was among the 29,000 Hessian mercenaries bought by the British Army. They had been purchased like cattle, at so much per head. The money maintained the Grand Duchy of Hesse, an area of Germany near today’s Frankfurt.

As an oppressed person himself, Peeler hated the British. Instead, he felt a great admiration for the Americans fighting so bravely against tyranny. He wanted to fight alongside them, and at the first opportunity, he deserted. Before reaching American lines, he was captured, and given 39 lashes, a punishment common in the British Army. The lashes were administered using the cat-o’nine tails, a whip with nine lashes of knotted cords.

Almost immediately, he deserted again, was recaptured and received 99 lashes, the usual penalty for a second offense. He was warned that a third offense would result in his being flogged to death, for no one was expected to survive the “thousand lashes save one” inflicted in such cases.

However, his stubborn determination to join the Americans did not waver. Learning the Army of King George III was preparing for a major battle, he deserted once more. He was discovered by John Hare, a British soldier whom he knew well. Hare had the opportunity to let Peeler escape and was offered five pounds by him. Hare scoffed, saying he could get five pounds for Peeler’s return, adding that he wasn’t confident Peeler would survive another whipping and be able to pay him back. At that point, Peeler made a promise to himself that he would survive, and one day would find Hare and kill him.

Peeler was taken back to camp, tried by a court-martial and, with two others, whipped “one thousand lashes save one.”

One of the three died before the 999 strokes were complete, but the strokes were continued just the same, even in his dying moments. All three were placed into a hut. It had only a bed of straw for comfort, and a small bowl of gruel was the daily food ration. Peeler urged his companion to exercise, but he wouldn’t, dying the third day. His death was kept secret by Peeler, who at the man’s portion of gruel.

(more…)

Vernon Historians news for June 2017

Museum  Opening  Day  and  Pie   Sale  — Sunday,  June  4, from 2 until 4 pm

A wide variety of pies will be available, including Whoopee Pies! The museum will be open — old photos and interesting artifacts on display.

The Museum will be open every Sunday from 2 until 4 p.m., June through September.

One heart beats warm for me: A 19th century Vernon tragedy, with a long epilogue

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Nearly a century after they were written, the Vernon Historians received a packet of letters from a member of the family that treasured them for several generations. Although the ink is a bit faded, the elegant cursive handwriting reveals a poignant love story.

Written before the Civil War, they disclose the death from cholera of 22-year-old Gratia (pronounced Gray-sha) Fairman in 1847. They are from her fiancé, William H. Burt, who worked in Worcester, living there in a men’s boarding house.

Gratia’s brother George had notified him that she was sick in bed with a fever. Burt responded in a letter to Gratia: “It will be my constant prayer that you may soon recover . . . if you should become dangerously ill or materially worse, let me know it and I will soon be with you. I am enjoying my usual good health.”

Gratia’s condition deteriorated rapidly, however. She was in pain, but “she bore her suffering patiently, and calmly resigned herself into the hand of a kind Father who has promised never to forsake his children.”

Those words were from Professor John S. Lee, her mentor and teacher at Mt. Caesar Academy in Swanzey, N. H. (Born on West Road in Vernon, his life of distinction will be told another time.)

On his return to Worcester, after the funeral, Burt wrote to her family, “to find some relief from my anguish . . . there is no sympathy here for those who mourn.” He continues: “Not a day has since passed but I have found my relief in tears, my pillow is often moistened with them at night. Many times have I wished I might never see the sun rise again — I have lived long enough — my cup of bitterness is full. What more of affliction life has in store for me I know not . . . All is gone . . . Wherever I was, in whatever circumstances I was placed, I was sure there was one heart beat warm for me. Death, welcome Deliverer, come to me next.” (more…)

Historians Meeting April 11: Exploring the Connecticut River

On Tuesday, April 11, at the Town Office Building, downstairs, the Vernon Historians will welcome Annette Spaulding back for another interesting program about her adventures diving and exploring in the Connecticut River. Last Fall she shared her stories of searching for and finding a petroglyph on the bank of the West River across from the Marina. Now she’s coming back to tell us stories of her other discoveries that often reflect or pertain to history of the the area.

Her program will start at 7:00 p.m. following a brief business meeting of the historians at 6:30 p.m.

The public is welcome to join us! Refreshments will be served.

TRUSTEE MEETING APRIL 18TH AT 6:30 P.M. at the Town Office Building, downstairs

‘Hunt’ing Down History (final episode)

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: This series chronicles the generations of Vernon’s Hunt family, all related to Jonathan Hunt of “Governor Hunt Road” fame. If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

PHOTO: Bracelet with cameo portraits of four sons of Jonathan and Jane Hunt (physician Jonathan Hunt, painter William Morris Hunt, architect Richard Morris Hunt and early photographer and New York attorney Leavitt Hunt), carved by artist William Morris Hunt, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo by Martin Langeveld.

Two days before Halloween, four years ago, I slipped through a side door of a massive, two-story granite building in Barre. I was met by a woman who said she had “something of interest” to show me. “It is just their heads,” she continued, cautioning me “not to touch them.” I was given white gloves to wear, just in case I forgot her orders.

I was in the workroom of the Vermont Historical Society Museum in Barre’s former Spaulding High School. (There is also the Main Museum in the old Pavilion Building near the Capitol in Montpelier.) Before me were portraits of Jonathan and Lavinah Hunt. They had been purchased from the same family selling the Hunt family papers; $3,000 was paid for the portraits. The paintings were about to be properly packaged and shipped to the Art Conservation wing of the Clark Museum in Williamstown, MA, where cleaning and possible repairs would be professionally done.

The portraits were painted by Lavinah’s nephew, Caleb Lyman, as a wedding present. Jonathan Hunt is shown wearing a dark coat, with a white cravat tied in a bow. His light brown hair, sprinkled with white, is combed back from his face, revealing a receding hairline. Lavinah is wearing a dark dress with a fichu (a 3-cornered shawl of a light material) tucked into the V-neckline. Her white day cap stands upright and reveals a bit of auburn hair tucked behind her ear. Her blue eyes look directly at the viewer. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 18

By Barbara Emery Moseley

Although Richard Morris Hunt is remembered for his oversight of the design of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, as well as for being the architect who designed opulent homes for prominent wealthy patrons, he also was engaged in the design of many public buildings in the Northeast.

In New York City are the Plaza Hotel; the Columbian Presbyterian Hospital; the central entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Stuyvesant apartments on E. 18th Street (known as the “French Flats”); and the New York Tribune Building. Also, St. Mark’s Church, Islip, NY (which was commissioned by William K. Vanderbilt); the Academic Building at West Point; Scroll and Key Clubhouse at Yale; the Fogg Museum at Harvard; the Howland Library in Beacon, NY; the Vanderbilt Tomb on Staten Island; the pedestal of the statue celebrating the Revolutionary War victory at Yorktown; and the Cromwell House, located at Hyde Park, near the Roosevelt House. (Despite his being born in Brattleboro, the only works of Richard Morris Hunt situated locally are two simple stones for his father and brother William Morris Hunt, in the Hunt lot in Prospect Hill Cemetery.) (more…)

Historians news: Program about the Williams Farm which became Vermont Yankee

January 22, 2017 – Williams Farm Reminiscences

On Sunday, Jan. 22, at 1:30 p.m., the Vernon Historians will hold a brief business meeting downstairs at the Vernon Town Office Building.  Immediately following the meeting, at 2:00 p.m., Sandy Williams Morrison will present a program about the Williams Farm, the property where Vermont Yankee was built. The program will include a brief history of the Williams Farm, personal stories, and memories of growing up on the farm as a child.  The program is free and open to all, and refreshments will be served.  Please join us for a relaxing Sunday afternoon and share your own memories of farm life.

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 17

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: This series chronicles the generations of Vernon’s Hunt family, all related to Jonathan Hunt of “Governor Hunt Road” fame. If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

Severe cold and snow ushered in 1892. Daniel Burnham, construction supervisor at the Columbian Exposition, was living in a construction shanty on the Chicago fair grounds, heated by an immense fireplace. Workmen constructed a moveable enclosure that could be heated, so that “staff” could continue to be applied to the framework of unfinished buildings. Burnham was criticized by both Congress and the local Fair Committee that he was paying wages that were too high. He also built barracks within the park where workers could get three large meals a day and sleep in clean beds in a heated space. They were paid even if kept from working because of injury or illness. It resulted in a loyal work force that gave full measure in its 8-hour day.

Richard Morris Hunt had returned to his New York City office, but kept in touch with architect Charles McKim, who designed the Fair’s Agriculture Building. He visited the shanty and passed on information to Hunt of progress slowly being made.

Lake freighters were unloading wooden crates bearing labels in foreign words and alphabets. Gigantic draft horses drew wagon loads of exhibit materials destined for yet unfinished buildings. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 15

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

ILLUSTRATION: World’s Columbian Exposition Administration Building, Chicago, 1893, designed by Richard Morris Hunt

With only two years to create a “dream city” in what was Chicago’s derelict Jackson Park, Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted were almost in a state of despair. It was a square mile of desolate land overgrown with a tangle of wild vines and grasses, spotted with a few pockets of various kinds of oaks, many of them dead. Then, there was the soil: a top one-foot layer of black dirt, followed by two feet of sand, then eleven feet of sand so saturated by water it became quicksand. Locally, it was called “gumbo”.

After a dismal tour in the bitter wind, everyone returned to their carriages, driving back to the city at the pace of a funeral cortege. McKim found a telegram awaiting; the message was that his mother had died. He left immediately on the next train to Boston.

That evening, the entire committee convened at the University Club, the first of many lavish dinners that would take place. Avoiding a swarm of reporters, they entered the banquet hall. Hunt and Olmsted were ushered to the head table, where they flanked Lyman Gage, President of the Exposition. All were in tuxedos, and a red rose boutonniere was at each place. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing Down History, Part 14

By Barbara Emery Moseley

NOTE: If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!

Although George Vanderbilt’s 600-room mansion “Belleville,” in Ashville, NC, still demanded attention from Richard Morris Hunt, in 1893, he also became involved in the plans for buildings at the “World’s Columbian Exposition” in Chicago. Its purpose was to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. The city, now mostly recovered from its disastrous 1871 fire, had been chosen by Congress. There was pressure, also, to produce a structure that should surpass in every way the iconic Eiffel Tower, which had been built for the 1867 Paris Exposition.

The oversight of the massive project and the selection of architects, fell to Daniel Burnham of Chicago, an architect himself. He was told to meet with “the greatest architects America has to offer: George Post, Charles McKim, and Richard Morris Hunt.” Hunt — a scion of the Hunt family in Vernon — was the nation’s “most venerable architect,” and also “a man of legendary irascibility,” Burnham later wrote. (more…)

‘Hunt’ing down history, Part 13

by Barbara Emery Moseley

Before the Hunt family’s move to Europe, Richard Morris Hunt had attended the prestigious Boston Latin School where, coincidentally, a Hunt cousin of his was headmaster. It was well known as a school that prepared boys for Harvard.

Instead, the family moved to Europe where Richard began his college education in Switzerland. Then, following in the footsteps of his brother, William Morris Hunt, he went to the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. There, he was the pupil and colleague of Hector Martin Lefuel, architect to Napoleon III.

In a letter to his mother, Richard complained that he “had been told America was not ready for the Fine Arts, but I think they are … Why shouldn’t our public buildings rival or even surpass those of Europe?” So, at the age of twenty-seven, he returned to the United States.

It was a disappointing beginning for the 27-year-old, but he resisted the ardent entreaties of his colleagues in Europe, that he return. His persistence was rewarded, and he became known as one of the greatest American architects of the 19th century. (more…)