By Barbara Emery Moseley
Imagine Brattleboro’s Main Street in the Spring of 1822. There are three hotels along its unpaved length. The stagecoach stop is at the Brattleboro House, on the north corner of Main and Elliot. Teams of oxen haul goods from the river landing. Salt cod, sugar, molasses, spices, cloth, glass, black powder, and cigars have been delivered by flatboats. Products going downriver will be lumber, grain, tallow, and pork. A stop may be made in Vernon to pick up roofing slate, brought to the river from the quarries at the Guilford/Vernon border. (It will be a quarter-century before steam trains will deliver passengers and freight to the locality, making commerce and travel easier.)
At the north corner of High and Main Streets, Brattleboro’s downtown residential area begins. First is an imposing two-story white house surrounded by green lawns and shaded by tall elms. It is the new house of Jonathan Hunt II, who was born in Vernon in 1787. He had graduated from Dartmouth, studied law and was admitted to the bar, and married Jane Maria Leavitt of Suffield, Connecticut, in 1821. It will become the birthplace of a remarkable family whose members will experience great acclaim and devastating tragedy.
Jonathan II was president of the first bank established in Brattleboro, along with Epaphro Seymour, cashier. Called the Brattleboro Bank, it was opened in 1821. It “enjoyed a high character,” and the two men retained their positions until their deaths.
Like his father, Jonathan II held prominent posts in government. He was judge at the County Court, and Brattleboro’s representative to the Vermont Legislature in 1816 and 1824. That was followed by his election to Congress in 1827. During his second term, he died suddenly, on May 11, 1832, aged 40. His wife and five children were with him, the youngest being not quite 4 years old.
His funeral in Washington, D.C., was attended by members of the House. A spokesperson commented that “he had been a useful member of the House” and “had displayed an ability superior to that shown by an average Congressman.”
The young widow soon left Brattleboro, moving to New Haven, Connecticut, to be with her mother. However, the eldest son, William, became ill, and the family’s physician urged the move to a warmer climate, like the American South or Italy. The latter was chosen. There, and in Paris, the talents of William and his brothers were developed.
Within a day’s trip from Vernon, even within a 15-minute ride, evidence of their skills can be found. Have you guessed what the “things” are?